Stray Livestock Liability Laws

Cattle drive at Bartow (1890s)

Cattle drive at Bartow (1890s)

On June 7, 1949, the Governor of Florida, Fuller Warren, approved Senate Bill No. 34, which required owners of livestock to prevent their animals from “running at large or straying upon public roads.” Under its provisions, ranchers could be held liable for damage done to property or persons by free roaming livestock.

From: General Acts and Resolutions Adopted by the Legislature of Florida... (1949), 545.

From: General Acts and Resolutions Adopted by the Legislature of Florida... (1949), 545.

The act empowered law enforcement officers to “impound livestock running at large,” and to fine delinquent owners the cost of caring for detained animals. If livestock were not claimed within three days of apprehension, the animals would be sold to the highest bidder. If no buyers came forward, the animals could be slaughtered and disposed of at the discretion of local authorities.

Cattle on their way to Tampa: Kissimmee (1904)

Cattle on their way to Tampa: Kissimmee (1904)

The act encouraged ranchers to build fences and contain wandering livestock. Sometimes known as the fence law, historians consider Senate Bill No. 34 the final measure in closing the open range; in particular it ended the centuries-old practices that gave rise to calling Florida cattle workers “cow hunters.”

J.H. Campbell driving cattle: Hardaway (1939)

J.H. Campbell driving cattle: Hardaway (1939)

When Senate Bill No. 34 became law, many in the Florida cattle industry already supported fence laws. From the 1920s to the early 1940s, ranchers were required to treat cattle for ticks. Outbreaks of tick fever could be devastating, and fences made the required roundups easier and less costly. Although Florida was declared tick free in September 1944, outbreaks occurred again in the late 1940s, 1957 and 1960.

Tick inspection station at the Baker County line (ca. 1930)

Tick inspection station at the Baker County line (ca. 1930)

In the second half of the 20th century, the expansion of citrus cultivation, increased development, and tick scares combined to end the reign of Florida’s cow hunters. Senate Bill No. 34 symbolized the close of the Florida frontier.

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